Who: The Airborne Toxic Event, a Los Angeles post-punk five-piece named after the dubious cloud that envelopes Don DeLillo's 1985 novel White Noise. The band's darkly rousing single "Sometime Around Midnight" — a heartbreakingly poetic tale of spying a beautiful woman at a rock show and losing her to the night — is in the Top Five on the modern rock chart.
Sounds Like: Singer-guitarist Mikel Jollett croons with an urgency that's alternatively brooding and anthemic, as the songs on his band's self-titled debut jump from perky dance-rock to more solemn moments featuring violin by Anna Bulbrook, one of their two formerly trained members; bassist Noah Harmon breaks out a bow onstage, too.
• Last month, U2's Adam Clayton proclaimed ATE's 2008 LP one of his favorite finds on a radio show hosted by Shirley Manson. "You want to play it cool on something like that, but on a certain level you're like 'holy shit,' " Harmon says. "My brother read it in like a newspaper, so he called me and goes, 'Now, look. This is pretty cool but you're still an asshole.' "
• In fall 2008 the band played 30 shows in 30 days in the U.K., but they didn't feel the punishing effects of the road until a later English tour where Jollett got smashed in the face by a "bloke" who was "acting blokey" when the band invited fans onstage to sing along. "He got all excited and the back of his head just went bam! Right into my eye." For the rest of the band's run, they had to explain that Jollett was not, in fact, wearing eye makeup. "Now we get makeup to look like we just got our asses kicked every now and then, because it just adds an element of rough housery," jokes Jollett.
• Jollett started ATE while toiling on a novel that was eventually excerpted on McSweeney's Website last year (guitarist Steven Chen, like Jollett, used to work as a writer; drummer Daren Taylor was the first bandmember Jollett recruited). Both his parents were ill and he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, "So it just felt like everyone around me was dying," Jollett says. "That's a moment in your life that changes you. You realize that life is finite and you only have so much time." In White Noise, a doctor says the Airborne Toxic Event could kill you in a week or 40 years. "So that's the big gag — it's true for everyone," Jollett adds. "Like everyone in this room, we could all die before the end of this interview."
Get It Now: The Airborne Toxic Event is in stores now. Check out footage from the band's SXSW performance and more of our interview above.